"Acting white" remains a barrier for black education

Never mind if someone carefully notes that the cultural problem is a legacy of racism in the past—that isn’t enough. To speak of black cultural problems other than in passing is to “pathologize” black people, tout court. For example, what’s being identified as black issue must be re-identified as a Southern one, or class-based—which is like a Russian saying that addressing alcoholism in Russia as a Russian problem is wrong because Finns and Swedes drink a lot too. Or, Bouie and others try an idea that it’s speech and dress that are being made fun of, rather than being bookish, despite endless reports that the taunt is indeed directly about the books.

Quite simply, there are no human groups with no disadvantageous cultural traits. Practices become entrenched at first for concrete reasons, but can hold on past the circumstances that created them, piggybacking on other human leanings (think Albanian blood feuds). The “acting white” bit, for example, is compatible with teenagers’ tribal impulse and is also handy for assuaging insecurity about schoolwork.

But these sociologists and journalists somehow cannot comprehend that cultural traits do not walk in lockstep with societal forces. To them, we’re wrong to warn black kids not to fall for the “acting white” slur. They bristle to see media pieces teaching the public to care about it. Instead, we are to battle societal inequity and institutional racism. To me, this sounds like telling someone about to go outside on a rainy day not to use an umbrella, but to support efforts to eliminate weather.

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